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The Briefing: To some, tariffs equal hope

WASHINGTON – President Trump imposed the tariffs he's been longing for on Thursday, and beneath the outcry from many business leaders and economists, some people are cheering.

Take, for example, Craig Speers. He worked at Bethlehem Steel's blast furnaces when he was in college, back when Lackawanna was a steel town. He saw Bethlehem Steel's death up close, and he thinks it was murder, a company killed by unfair foreign competition.

"Predatory trade practices are one of the reasons for the decline of the American steel industry," said Speers, now a member of the executive board of the Buffalo AFL-CIO. "This is nothing to be pooh-poohed."

Speers was among those thrilled that Trump decided to impose a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum, with Canadian and Mexican product exempted for now.

"This might cost the American people a penny a six-pack" thanks to higher aluminum prices, Speers said. "Is it worth it? Absolutely it's worth it."

Similarly, prices for products made of steel will likely go up, too, because of the tariffs, but Speers said those increased costs will result in a big payoff: new American jobs in the steel and aluminum industries.

There's already some evidence of that happening. United States Steel Corp. said Wednesday said it would bring a blast furnace back online at a plant in Granite City, Ill, and recall 500 workers. Republic Steel said it was preparing to reopen a plant in Lorain, Ohio, adding 1,000 jobs. Century Aluminum said it would reopen a smelter in Kentucky and double the work force there, to 600.

That's just the start, said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an industry- and union-backed group that had been pushing for the tariffs.

"Steel and aluminum workers are already being hired back, and as the result of stronger industries we believe these will be the first of many new jobs created in America’s manufacturing communities," Paul said.

Of course, as this story noted, many dire things are being said by the overwhelming number of business leaders and economists who favor free trade.

The Trade Partnership projected that Trump's tariffs could create 33,464 steel and aluminum jobs. But the group said higher steel and aluminum prices the tariffs would boost costs in the construction, auto and other industries and could lead to the loss of an estimated 179,334 jobs.

Don't tell that to Scott Paul.

"We are confident that steel consumers, most of whom are agile, profitable, and flush with cash from the recent tax cut, can navigate this new landscape if importers choose to raise prices," he said.

The tariffs are merely leveling the playing field, said John Ferriola, the CEO of Nucor Steel.

"Please bear in mind that particularly the European Union, but most countries in the world, have a 25 percent or greater VAT, value-added tax, on products going into their countries from the United States," Ferriola said on CNBC earlier this week. "So if we impose a 25 percent tariff, all we are doing is treating them exactly as they treat us."

Canada – which supplies much of the steel used in the Buffalo area – deserves that same sort of equal treatment, too, Speers said.

"Hamilton should not be the steel capital of the United States," he said. "The steel capital of the United States should be in America, with American mills and American workers."

For many reasons detailed here, a massive rebuilding of American steel plants is unlikely, even if tariffs make foreign steel pricier.

Still, Speers can't help but dream.

He said he looks at vacant land along Lake Erie, not far from where he used to work, and imagines a new steel mill rising and a new era beginning.

Happening today

The Democratic National Committee continues its winter meetings, focusing on its voter mobilization plan for the coming election ... The Senate is in session on routine business, but House members have gone home for the weekend ... The Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies holds a discussion on "Anti-Corruption and the Fight for Democracy in Russia."

Good reads

Vox tells us that President Trump's meeting with Kim Jong Un will be the ultimate test of his deal-making skills ... The Atlantic reports on a grim but obvious conclusion: On Twitter, fake news beats real news ... The Associated Press details the latest chapter in the gilded life of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ... Politico notes that Trump is threatening a government shutdown to prevent construction of a new tunnel between New York and New Jersey ... And in a role reversal, the New York Times says former President Barack Obama appears ready to go into Trump's old line of work: television.

 

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